Metabolic Health
Reviewed by

Shifa Fathima

Triglycerides: Why do they matter?

We know that anything in excess is bad. The maxim holds for triglycerides in our body. These fat variants, which are otherwise essential for supplementing energy requirements between meals and fasting, can turn rogue when found in higher than normal values. The most common affliction associated with a high count of Triglycerides is the hardening of arteries, which can lead to heart attacks. 

A rise in the level of triglycerides is usually attributed to a build-up of bad eating habits over time. Abnormally high levels can indicate Type 2 diabetes or low thyroid levels, also known as hypothyroidism, and fatty liver.

What are Triglycerides?

Before we seek to remedy an abnormal increase in the number of triglycerides, let us first understand what these fat components are and find out their role in our bodies. Triglycerides are, essentially, fats and belong to the sub-genre of lipids. When our consumption of fats and sugar becomes more than the daily calorie requirement, the body converts these excess calories into lipids and stocks them for future use. 

But if unused, an abnormally high count of these lipids (fats) can result in heart ailments, pancreatitis, and diseases of the liver.

What's a Normal Triglyceride Level?

The obvious question that crops up is what are the normal values in a triglycerides level chart? Triglycerides like cholesterol, which are also lipids, actually work for the betterment of the body when within the normal range. Your physician will order a lipid profile test to check whether your cholesterol and triglycerides are within the acceptable range for healthy living. 

A triglycerides level chart is commonly measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Their values can also be measured in millimoles per litre (mmol/L).

Normal triglycerides levels: Under 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L).

High triglycerides levels: When it crosses 200 and is less than 500 mg/dL (2.3-5.6 mmol/L)

Abnormally high triglycerides levels: More than 500 mg/dL (5.7 mmol/L)

A look at the triglycerides level chart by age reveals that men in the age group of 36-55 years have consistently higher triglycerides than women. Women, however, showed a tendency to accumulate more triglycerides before they hit 35. Because triglycerides flow in our blood, we can analyse their values from a regular blood sample. 

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What's the Difference between Triglycerides and Cholesterol?

For most of our lives, we are worked up about the presence of the other fat in our body - cholesterol. Both triglycerides and cholesterol are waxy substances called lipids circulating in our bloodstream. While cholesterol build-up needs to be monitored for good heart health, triglycerides are an equally important indicator of the proper functioning of the liver and pancreas, besides the heart. 

Triglycerides and cholesterol may come from the same school of lipids but they serve different purposes in our bodies. Cholesterol is made by the liver and helps in the digestion of food. They are also the building blocks of cell walls and catalyse hormone production. Triglycerides, on the other hand, are reserve fuel cells. The liver packs them with cholesterol to move it throughout the body depending on the body's needs. This is because cholesterol by itself cannot move on its own. 

Why do High Triglycerides matter?

As we have discussed, triglycerides are packets of energy, which the body taps into when additional energy is required to fuel our activities. But what happens when we continue to remain on a diet that gives us substantially more calories daily, without the channel to expend it? Coupled with a sedentary lifestyle or “desk jobs”, the body is at a loss to use these lipids in our blood. There is an abnormal increase in triglycerides. 

The triglycerides level chart by age shows that middle-aged men are more susceptible to hypertriglyceridemia than women. Most times, the triglycerides level chart turns up high because a spike is hard to detect early on as it is not accompanied by visible symptoms as is the case with a high cholesterol level. Hypertriglyceridemia is associated with acute pancreatitis. It is also indicative of mismanaged Type 2 diabetes in a person. Abnormally high levels of triglycerides have also been associated with fatty liver. But the biggest risk it poses is to the heart. It accumulates in a plaque-like formation in the walls of the arteries hardening them into a medical condition called atherosclerosis. 

What's the best way to lower triglycerides?

The best way to lower triglycerides is to make use of them for the purpose they were intended - burning them up. Triglycerides are energy cells stored as lipids. If you can use them and fuel up regularly, there will be just enough triglycerides supplies to last for a day! So how can we get there? 

Exercise: If your physical activity is negligent, then exercising is the best way out of Hypertriglyceridemia. 

Lose weight: Hypertriglyceridemia is associated with obesity due to fat build-up. Pick up a sport, or walk regularly to burn up the stored fats.

Eat within limits: Do not overindulge. Count your calories. 

Change your diet: Cut out sugars, and reduce the intake of carbohydrates and red meat. Go for the greens. Fish and seafood are also great options for red meat. 

Cut out alcohol: Alcohol can have a high dose of carbs and sugars. Drink moderately. 

Manage your ailments: People with diabetes or thyroid should fix their condition with a physician’s help. 

What about Medication?

We recommend medication for people with hypertriglyceridemia to prevent risks to the heart. Sometimes underlying conditions such as pancreatitis and diabetes need to be treated or managed with medication to bring down the triglycerides in our bodies. Triglycerides are treated with cholesterol-lowering medication. Nicotinic acid (niacin) and statins are prescribed to people with high triglycerides levels. Omega-3 supplements are also recommended along with PCSK9 inhibitors. It is best to consult a triglycerides level chart by age for a more accurate analysis of the condition. 

Bottomline

Triglycerides are lipids, a kind of fat, which functions as the reserve fuel cells of our body. They are meant to be used up when the body is energy-deficient between meals or during/after physically taxing work. But because of high-calorie diets and sedentary lifestyles accentuated by work-from-home conditioning, triglycerides do not get used up and keep accumulating in the bloodstream, plaquing the walls of arteries, building up fat around the liver and affecting the pancreas. The good news is their levels can be managed by simply burning your fats with exercises and chores involving physical activities, and by changing your diet!

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